People take their lunch break in the Raffles Place financial district in Singapore on May 5, 2021.
Facebook Facebook Logo Log in to Facebook to connect with Roslan Rahman AFP | Getty Images
SINGAPORE – Singapore has ordered Facebook, Twitter, and a local publisher to correct a false statement that implies a new variant of coronavirus from the city-state that is at risk of spreading to India.
Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung instructed the two social media giants and SPH magazines to provide a correction notice to their users in Singapore. SPH Magazines has a popular forum called HardwareZone.
“There is no new” Singapore “variant of Covid-19. There is also no evidence of a Covid-19 variant that is” extremely dangerous “for children,” said the Singapore Ministry of Health.
“The strain that prevails in many of the Covid-19 cases discovered in Singapore in recent weeks is variant B.1.617.2, native to India,” he added. “The existence and distribution of variant B.1.617.2 in India goes back to the discovery of the variant in Singapore. This was publicly known and reported by various media on May 5, 2021.”
The Covid variant B.1.617 was detected for the first time in India last year. The World Health Organization recently named the B.1.617 a “worrying variant”, indicating that it has become a global health threat.
The move from Singapore came after unsubstantiated comments by an Indian politician sparked a diplomatic incident between the two countries earlier this week.
The chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, tweeted on Tuesday that a new coronavirus variant in Singapore is said to be extremely dangerous for children and could lead to a third wave in India. He has provided no evidence to support his claims.
What was the reaction like?
Kejriwal was publicly reprimanded by the foreign ministers of both countries.
“Politicians should stick to the facts! There is no such thing as a ‘Singapore variant’,” said Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s foreign minister, in a tweet in response to Kejriwal’s claim.
The Singapore Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it regretted Kejriwal’s “unsubstantiated claims”.
“MFA is disappointed that a prominent political figure did not establish the facts before making such allegations. MFA met with Indian High Commissioner P Kumaran this morning to express those concerns,” the State Department said.
India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the two countries are “solid partners” in the fight against the pandemic.
“Irresponsible comments from those who should know better, however, can harm long-term partnerships. Let me be clear – Delhi CM doesn’t speak for India,” he said on Twitter. Jaishankar was previously India’s High Commissioner in Singapore.
Indian Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri responded to Kejriwal’s comments on Twitter, noting that international flights to India have been suspended since March 2020.
He also pointed out that India and Singapore have no air travel bubble and that New Delhi only operates return flights from the city-state to bring back stranded Indians.
“Even so, we are keeping an eye on the situation. Every precaution is being taken,” Puri said, according to a CNBC translation of his remarks in Hindi.
Covid in India and Singapore
There was recently a surge in locally submitted cases in Singapore, prompting the government to tighten social restrictions again.
While a number of children in the city-state were recently infected with Covid-19, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Sunday that none of them are seriously ill, but the situation is still worrying, according to the Straits Times.
Nonetheless, Singapore announced on Tuesday that children between the ages of 12 and 15 could be vaccinated.
So far, Singapore has reported more than 61,600 cases and 31 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
India is the second worst infected country in the world after the US and is facing a devastating second wave. To date, India has reported more than 25 million cases and over 287,000 deaths, but experts believe the numbers have been severely under counted.
Delhi was one of the hardest hit regions in the country, with hospitals facing shortages of hospital beds, oxygen supplies and drugs to treat Covid-19 patients.